Article

Archaeology and the Anxiety of Loss: Effacing Preservation from the History of Renaissance Rome

115.2
Panoramic view of the Roman Forum, by Marten van Heemskerck.
Panoramic view of the Roman Forum, by Marten van Heemskerck.

It is a famous paradox that Renaissance builders, despite their avowed reverence for classical antiquity, caused widespread archaeological destruction in Rome. As early as the 14th century, humanists criticized the devastation caused by new construction in the papal capital, and later archaeologists applied the scientific techniques of their new discipline to substantiate these claims. But the blanket condemnation of Renaissance destruction is both unfair and misleading. This article investigates how fear for the survival of archaeological artifacts, or the anxiety of loss, has distorted our understanding of early modern interventions on ancient sites. By drawing on new evidence for preservation practices, it explores why these were effaced from the historical record and invites us to rethink the history of archaeology in Renaissance Rome.

DOI: 
10.3764/aja.115.2.0159